Alaska is an enormous and diverse state with a wide range of weather, landscapes and activities! There are some specific things to think about no matter where you’re going to visit, or even what time of year! I lived in Alaska for seven years in Fairbanks (dry, extreme cold in winter and super hot in summer) and Skagway (wet, more mild, very wet in winter). In this post, I’ll talk about some things to consider when deciding what to pack for Alaska. Note: this list does not include camping gear, if you’re doing a backcountry trip or a camping trip you’ll need some additional gear. If you’re planning a trip to Alaska, check out these posts about the best things to do in Alaska, best places to eat in Alaska, riding the Alaska ferry, visiting Glacier Bay National Park, Ketchikan or Juneau.
Things to consider packing for Alaska
How much can you bring?
When planning what to pack for Alaska, the first thing is to think about how much luggage you can bring on your trip. If you’re traveling a lot of different places, taking planes, trains and automobiles, you may need a lighter packing list than someone who is traveling on a cruise ship and bus tour. If you’re going to more than one place on your own, I’d consider bringing what you can pack in a carry on bag. This is easy to carry and reduces the likelihood of losing your bags!
All the items on my packing list for Alaska I can fit into a carry on size bag (except for my big winter coat and snowpants, but you won’t need those unless you go to the interior part of Alaska in winter). I usually pack enough for a few days and plan on doing laundry at some point, which also helps in packing light. Alaska is a casual place, similar to the Pacific Northwest so you don’t need a dressy outfit unless you want one.
Alaska is a state with very different temperatures winter and summer, and very different within winter and summer in different areas. Do research to understand what to expect for the temperature in the part of the state you’ll be visiting and the time of year. For example, Southeast Alaska is extremely wet in winter, and while they definitely get snow, they don’t always have it all winter. In Fairbanks, temperatures way below zero are common from November through February or March.
Another important thing to consider in what to pack is the hours of daylight. In the summer, all of the state has long days, ranging from 18 hours in Ketchikan to the sun not setting at all above the Arctic Circle. Similarly, in the winter months there are far fewer hours of daylight. In March and September, there are about 12 hours of daylight just like everywhere else on earth around the equinox.
What to pack for Alaska
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Below is my personal packing list for Alaska. I’ve noted items that are seasonal or specific to one part of the state.
- Medications, over the counter and prescriptions
- Toiletries (I keep it simple and I encourage you to as well!)
- Underwear and socks (for the socks-light wool in summer, heavier in winter)
- Lounging clothes: whatever you like to wear around your cabin, hotel or vacation rental in evenings and mornings (or pajamas). I bring leggings, t-shirt and a hoodie.
- Analog entertainment: you’ll likely be in places without access to the internet or a cell phone signal. You also might spend a lot of hours on airplanes, ferries or trains so having reading material, art supplies or a deck of cards is a great idea! I am a big fan of the Kindle paperwhite, because you can bring endless reading material in something lightweight and durable (and the battery lasts a long time in airplane mode). It also has a built in light for reading in the dark (life changing!) but it doesn’t really light up like a screen.
- Waterbottle: I love this one, it keeps cold things cold and hot things hot and has a million awesome colors!
- Bug spray and a headnet: Summer only, when the bugs are out! This is a pretty easy thing to pick up once you get there, so don’t stress about packing it if you don’t already have it.
- Point and shoot camera: I’ve talked about this camera lots of other times! I think having a real camera in addition to your phone for a trip to Alaska is totally worth it. This is the one I’ve used for many years, and it saves the phone battery and gives an opportunity for good photos in more lighting situations. It’s also waterproof and drop proof.
- An eye mask (summer only) can be really helpful for sleeping during daylight that lasts 24 hours a day!
- A headlamp (spring, fall, winter only): even if you aren’t camping, this can be helpful if you’re there during the dark months because it’s REALLY dark for many hours.
- Durable snacks: I’m not a fan of bars, but I always bring some because on long trips it’s nice to be able to have a snack with you, especially in more remote areas
- Sunglasses (all year) and sunscreen (spring and summer): when the sun comes out in Alaska, it’s intense!
- Hat: This is my favorite hat for summer because it’s lightweight and protects your face from the sun as well as keeping rain off it. It also has holes for your sunglasses and it comes in a million colors. For winter, I’d recommend a warm wool hat that covers your ears and actually I would recommend bringing that even in summer!
- Gloves: the type of gloves will vary greatly depending on your preferences and the time of year. These are the ones I wear most often, they are fairly light allowing you to still use your hands and they have pads so you can use a phone with them on. I don’t normally wear them in summer, but if you get cold easily and you’re going to a wet place you should probably bring them in summer too! If you’re going to a really cold place (like Fairbanks) in the winter, then you’ll want some serious mitts. You might even want gloves AND mitts. Mitts are really expensive so unless you’re doing a serious winter visit in the interior that’s probably overkill.
- Hiking pants: I love these pants! I’ve talked about them before, but they are great for hikes in hot weather. They are really good for plus size women and have sizes up to 24. I’d recommend ordering one size bigger than you normally wear. They are also terrific for bug protection and you can cinch them up to capris if you like. If you’re hiking in Alaska in the summer, you need to be ready for hot sun or drenching rain. I’d love to tell you you could plan on one or the other but it just isn’t true! These are great pants to pack for Alaska.
- Leggings: I love these leggings and have also talked about them before. They don’t slide down, they have awesome pockets and they are fairly warm. These are a good option for hiking or walking around on wet days, and they are also a great option to wear underneath rain pants or snow pants so they don’t get too clammy. Great for plus sized women and they are true to size.
- Rain pants: I’ve talked before about how much I hate them and I almost never wear them, but they are a good idea especially in Southeast Alaska. They also provide another layer of bug protection. I bring them along if I’m going to Southeast Alaska, especially if I’m camping. These REI ones are the best ones I’ve found (also in plus sizes!)
- Snow pants: I have a cheap pair from target that I’ve had for years, this doesn’t need to be an expensive item! You don’t need this unless you’re doing deep winter in the interior (similar to the mitts)
- T shirt or tank top: It can get hot in Alaska in the summer! It can also get hot indoors at any time of year, so I always bring a couple of short sleeved or sleeveless tops
- Long sleeve base layer: I really love this wool shirt, and it doubles as a nicer shirt too! It provides warmth and softness without being too hot, and it’s cute.
- Warm layer: I suggest a fleece jacket or a light puffy jacket any time of year. One that can get wet and still be warm (synthetic not down) is a good idea. If it’s winter, bring the warmest puffy jacket you can find!
- Rain Jacket: You absolutely need an excellent rain jacket!! This is my current one and I adore it. This REI one is very similar and also excellent! If it’s winter and you’re only going to Fairbanks and Anchorage, you can do the puffy coat instead, but otherwise you need this!
- Really warm puffy down or synthetic coat that’s LONG and has a hood but ONLY if you’re going to Anchorage or Fairbanks in winter. Or possibly if you’re from Texas in summer. I can’t wear one of these unless it’s below zero.
- Boots: These rubber boots are amazing (and adorable!!) and I hike in them all the time. These are good for winter in Southeast Alaska (though you’ll need warmer snow boots if you’re going to Anchorage or Fairbanks in winter). They are good for summer in any part of the state and you’ll see Alaskans wearing them everywhere.
- Waterproof shoes: I’ve mentioned before that I don’t wear hiking boots and love these hiking shoes instead (they last a long time! Mine are no longer available but they’re very similar to these). If you prefer hiking boots, then bring those (if you’re buying some for your trip, consider these excellent Merrell ones).
- Sandals: I suggest bringing these in winter or summer! In summer you may wear them outside but even in winter they’re an important thing on your Alaska packing list because you can take them on and off quickly (good for hot tubs!). I bring chacos in summer and crocs in winter.
- The other 10 essentials, if you plan on hiking.
Knowing what to pack for Alaska prepares you for comfort, warmth and fun on your Alaskan adventure!